Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

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Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

Craig Berube remembers his first NHL game in March of 1987 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had two fights plus 16 minutes in penalties during a 3-1 Flyers win.
 
“I had my gloves off three times,” Berube recalled. “Oh yeah, I was nervous. But my position back then, that was my job as a player. Your first game you are nervous, for sure.”
 
Tonight at Madison Square Garden, Berube will make his NHL playoff coaching debut against the New York Rangers.
 
He already had 79 regular-season games to get adjusted. He’s not nervous.
 
“There is obviously a lot at stake,” he said. “I’m excited. I am. I am looking forward to it. They (the Flyers) know I am excited. Over the last few days, our team is excited.”
 
Sheer enthusiasm never won a playoff game, let alone a Stanley Cup. Yet it’s easy to see that Berube’s personality has not changed one iota this season.
 
Even when the club was 1-7. Even when it reached .500 in mid-December. Even when it clinched a playoff spot.
 
Look ahead, stay positive, focus on the here and present.
 
Berube feels a coach’s personality should never change with his team, especially going from the regular season to the playoffs.
 
Even if faced with a legitimate crisis, such as Wednesday’s announcement that starting goalie Steve Mason will miss Game 1 with a head injury (see story).
 
“I don’t think our team feels like it is a blow at all,” he said. “I totally disagree. Things happen. Good team’s find a way to get it done. They know.”
 
Berube is a no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip coach, and his players know and respect that. They say they’ve seen no change in him leading up to this point.
 
Well, maybe one small thing.
 
“He’s been paying a little more close attention to detail this week,” Matt Read observed. “He wants everything perfect. No mistakes in practice, or it’s going to carry over into games.”
 
Berube says it’s important for a coach not to change his ways, his style or his demeanor just because there is the added pressure of going from the regular season to the playoffs.
 
“I don’t think I will change,” he said. “I want my team to play under control with disciplined play. I will coach the same way.”
 
Is it important for them to see there is no change here?
 
“Yeah,” he said.
 
The Flyers were already going into this series as an underdog because of Henrik Lundqvist’s absolute dominance over them since 2011.
 
With the loss of Mason, they now become a heavy underdog -- even though the fact remains that what this series should really be about is whether or not the Flyers can solve Lundqvist.
 
Emery is capable of beating the Rangers. He gets up for challenges and he’s proven that. He has outstanding lifetime numbers against the Rangers, including a glittering 1.87 goals-against average.

What Berube has to do here is refocus his team not on losing Mason, but solving the puzzle of Lundqvist while finding the confidence within his group to make it believe it can win at MSG, where they Flyers have lost eight straight.
 
That’s where positive spin and Berube’s down-to-earth approach come together. When he talked to his club this week about the Rangers, he gave them concrete reasons why they didn’t win in New York this season.
 
“The Rangers are a very good skating team,” he told them. “They get on you quick and forecheck hard and they are an aggressive team. Their defense is aggressive. In both games [there], a period here or there, a period and a half, we get off page.
 
“A little frustration sets in, turning pucks over and it costs us. We need to play a 60-minute game up there. Stay focused. You can’t get frustrated. They are a good skating hockey team. We have to get pucks deep, put pucks on Lundqvist and get traffic.”
 
Interesting that Lundqvist said he saw something on film about the Flyers that is very different from other clubs and it affects how a goalie sees their attack or tracks pucks.
 
“You just have to be aware of it, that they like that extra pass,” the big Swede said. “They have a lot of guys, especially [Claude] Giroux obviously, who can set guys up for an open net. They can shoot, but they can look for the extra pass.
 
“They can still shoot it. You just have to be ready for anything. You can't just expect a shot every time. That's what makes them a little different from other teams, a little like Pittsburgh.”
 
The key focal points, both ways, are fairly clear cut.
 
Can the Flyers score on Lundqvist? If not, it won’t matter if God is in goal for the Flyers. Can they neutralize Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and grind him down into a lesser factor in the series?
 
Can Giroux’s line with Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek be the hot line it was earlier this winter? Does having seven 20-goal scorers -- most in the NHL -- give them a tangible edge because every line has a weapon?
 
Will their lethal power play make a critical difference, or will the Rangers' third-ranked penalty kill simply erase it?
 
Simple questions with no simple answers, Berube would tell you.
 
“The biggest thing is you have to take one shift at a time in the playoffs, focus and keep pounding away, no matter what,” Berube said. “Playoffs are a grind. You have to be prepared for a grind.
 
“That is what I told my team. Be prepared for a grind out there. Need to check and skate and work, do all the little things. If you don’t do them, you won’t be successful.”
 
Sounds like a guy who’s actually coached before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, doesn’t it?

Flyers ramp up intensity, physicality on Day 2 of training camp

Flyers ramp up intensity, physicality on Day 2 of training camp

VOORHEES, N.J. — Radko Gudas was so hyped up, he was having great difficulty trying to communicate his excitement after having crunched two players during battle drills.
 
“This is the fun where it starts … where the fun starts?” he said with a laugh. “Everybody wants to get the feeling of game-like situations. Everybody is trying their hardest.”
 
After two days of mostly drills with gradually advancing intensity, the Flyers wrapped up Saturday’s training camp with two-on-two battle drills.
 
Two guys going to the net and shooting, getting the rebound, all the while fighting off another player.
 
Gudas wants to demonstrate he can still maim guys along the boards with a taped-up right wrist (stress fracture). And he did.
 
“I haven’t used the wrist for a couple weeks so it’s nice to get a touch with somebody else and get into the battle situation with someone else and know I can still do it,” he said.
 
“This is more for the older guys who weren’t here for the rookie [camp] to get in there, get a feel for it.”
 
All this aside, Gudas might not participate in Sunday’s full squad scrimmage only because he has not been cleared to shoot pucks yet.
 
“I have to stay as much as I can off the heavy slapper,” he said.
 
The Flyers have two split-squad games Monday — one in New Jersey, the other in Brooklyn.
 
“The guys are anxious to have a scrimmage,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Couple good, hard workdays and they handled it really well. It’s time to get into a scrimmage situation, which leads into a game the next day.”
 
Hence the battle drills to get players to take their energy to that next level.
 
“You got to slowly keep moving toward game readiness,” Hakstol said. “There’s a difference from practice to a full preseason game.
 
“Today was a little more battle in practice than yesterday but some subtle detail mixed into each of the drills.”

Broadcast notes
Monday's game in New Jersey will be broadcast on radio on 97.5 The Fanatic, while the Islanders' game is slated to be a video webcast on PhiladelphiaFlyers.com.

Tuesday's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center and Wednesday's game against the Devils in Allentown, Pennsylvania, will both air on TCN and 97.5.

Brayden Schenn motivated to build off career season in 2016-17

Brayden Schenn motivated to build off career season in 2016-17

VOORHEES, N.J. — What a difference for Brayden Schenn to walk into Flyers training camp and feel as if he’s arrived.
 
The forward is coming off a season in which he posted career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59), which earned him the team’s Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as the most improved Flyer. 
 
Best of all, he was rewarded with a four-year, $20.5 million contract in July.
 
“I feel good coming into this year,” Schenn said. “The Flyers showed some trust and confidence in me by signing me for four years. Coming in here, I’m excited to get the season going and build off last year.”
 
At least he won’t have to begin camp on the fifth line like he did last fall after general manager Ron Hextall had challenged him to take his game to another level and new head coach Dave Hakstol made him work to advance himself in the lineup.
 
“You hope it won’t be like that [fifth line], especially with [seven] guys gone,” Schenn said jokingly, meaning the Flyers playing in the World Cup of Hockey.
 
The big question for Schenn is whether he plays left wing on Claude Giroux’s line or plays wing on Sean Couturier's unit. He proved to everyone last season he can play all three forward spots now and be effective on the ice.
 
“I finished on the left,” he said. “I said forward or center but I played so much left wing, right wing a little center in the playoffs. So I feel comfortable now all over.
 
“Wherever the opportunity is to play with great players and make the most of the situation is where you want to be right now.”
 
These first two days of camp, Schenn has been very aggressive and motivated on the ice.
 
Schenn, Giroux and Wayne Simmonds represented the top line much of last season, especially in the second half. That was partly because Jakub Voracek had slumped so badly from his breakout season the year before and couldn’t hold his spot on the first line.
 
“It’s tough to say because lines change throughout the year,” Schenn said. “When you are trying to find chemistry and this and that. Wherever I start, I just have to make the most of every opportunity.
 
“We have a lot of top players around here to play with … to pencil my name into one spot is hard to say. Wherever they place me at the start, I’ll to try with it.”
 
It’s expected he’ll start the season again at left wing on Giroux’s line after he serves his three-game suspension for a hit against Capitals forward T.J. Oshie in the playoffs.
 
“It’s good to have guys who can move around because you never know what you are gonna need in a top six,” Hextall said. “You like a left-hand Brayden on the left side with skill.”
 
Hakstol said he wants guys “who fit well” together, so that may be the answer right there.
 
There was talk last season whether the Schenn Brothers were having negative impacts on each other. Luke Schenn, the veteran defenseman, came to camp and was demoted to eighth on the depth chart. He was angry from Day 1. Brayden Schenn was angry at the fifth line.
 
Both would huddle with each other every day. Both cared so deeply about the other, they acted as each’s confidante. Yet when Luke Schenn was traded, it seemed to benefit both players.
 
“Probably a better question for Brayden, but a lot of people have pointed to that,” Hextall said. “When Luke got traded, Brayden had played six or seven really good games ahead of that.
 
“Whether that was coincidence or not I don’t have an answer. I do think what he said there, there’s obvious reason based on personality and it probably could do you good or do you harm.”
 
Brayden Schenn said he always dreamed of playing with his brother, but it adds other pressures.
 
“When you come to the rink [as brothers], you are so tight and so close, you tend to worry about each other more than you have to, just because it’s family and he’s your brother,” he said.
 
“Now that Luke’s gone, he’s in a good situation in Arizona, I hope he gets a good opportunity. Now you tend to worry about yourself a little more. Come to the rink and focus on what you have to do and not to worry about Luke or vice-versa.”
 
Schenn said it’s obvious that the club has made a commitment to himself, Giroux, Simmonds, Couturier and Voracek with the long-term contracts handed out in recent years.
 
To that end, he said, the window of opportunity for some of these Flyers is fast approaching. Some are in their peak years now. Schenn, 25, and Couturier, 23, are the youngest among that group.
 
“They will challenge us again this year to get better,” Schenn said. “They have invested in us. We all got to step up. Parts on the back end like 'Ghost' [Shayne Gostisbehere] and Gudy [Radko Gudas]. Everyone has got to get better year by year.
 
“I hate to say it. We’re not old by any means, but our core group of guys are in their prime now and we have to try to make it happen.”
 
It starts in training camp.